MicroStrategy Introduces New Data-Visualization Widgets

MicroStrategy's new widgets can improve how users interact with -- and understand -- data.

MicroStrategy Inc. today released a bundle of new data visualization "widgets" for its Dynamic Enterprise Dashboards. The new widgets snap into MicroStrategy's dashboard environment and improve how users interact with and understand data, according to the company.

When it first debuted 18 months ago, MicroStrategy pushed Dynamic Enterprise Dashboards as a means of delivering a more interactive spin on the static dashboards. Its new data visualizations are based on Adobe's Flex technology, so everyone with a Flex 2- or 3-compliant toolkit can build widgets of their own, according to MicroStrategy. Furthermore, because MicroStrategy Dynamic Enterprise Dashboards are based on the one-stop underpinnings of the MicroStrategy BI platform, officials say, Flex-savvy users can quickly design widgets without worrying about underlying arcana such as data source connectivity. That's a point MicroStrategy officials seem particularly anxious to drive home.

"The visualizations are coming through our business intelligence platform, which we built from the ground up as a platform. We provide all of that [connectivity] in the platform, so access to relational databases, to operational systems, to multiple sources, that's all taken care of [i.e., facilitated] by the platform," says Brian Brinkmann, director of product marketing with MicroStrategy.

The widgets either deliver new functionality (as in the case of MicroStrategy's Funnel or Waterfall tools) or improve on existing capabilities, as with the new Bubble Grid widget, which Brinkmann describes as a user-requested refinement of MicroStrategy's existing "Bubble Graph" technology.

The new deliverables bring MicroStrategy's library of widgets up to 20 -- although individual users have developed dozens more than that, officials say.

In every case, MicroStrategy's widgets aim to make data more comprehensible. For example, the Bubble Graph widget lets a user view time-series data as an animation or movie so that the user can quickly see how a value changes over time. That was good enough for many users, Brinkmann says, but some clamored for more. Enter Bubble Grid, a new widget that eschews moviemaking in favor of conventional plotting -- again, represented over time (and using different colors and sizes) -- in the context of a grid.

In both cases, Brinkmann says, data-visualization technology lets a user take an enormous amount of data and condense it into an intelligible histogram, which -- in its density and brevity -- can reveal patterns or trends inside the data.

"You're taking all of this data [and] crunching it down to a small space, so you can immediately make sense of it," he comments. "With something like our Bubble Grid [widget], the data set behind that is enormous. If you saw that in a table form, you could not begin to see the patterns and the trends in it that that widget can show you in the span of just 5 seconds. The same is true for so many of the other widgets that we have."

Ditto for MicroStrategy's Funnel widget, a variation of a stacked percent bar chart -- in funnel-like shape, of course. It's ideal for pipeline analyses, sales forecasts, or sales process analyses, according to Brinkmann. Likewise, MicroStrategy's Waterfall widget presents users with a series of increments or decrements that they can modify for the purposes of scenario analysis.

There's a Media widget, too, says Brinkmann. It lets users incorporate media sources -- i.e., audio, video, or still images -- into their dashboard views. "We have customers who use this widget for explanatory and training purposes. For instance, if I don't understand what the data means on the dashboard, I can play the video and someone will explain how to use the dashboard and how to interpret the data."